Student leaders call for support in federal budget, fearing long-term pandemic consequences

Student leaders call for support in federal budget, fearing long-term pandemic consequences

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For Osob Mohamed, completing his final semester at Simon Fraser University is bittersweet. While she feels fulfilled to have completed her health sciences degree, she fears what will come next for her during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think it’s a little darker than anything,” said the Surrey, BC resident.

“It’s definitely not what I imagined it would be… especially now looking at the job market and thinking about my next steps and prospects. “

The coronavirus pandemic has dealt multiple blows to Canadian post-secondary students, altering their education and drastically affecting their employment options. Student leaders and policy experts are calling on them to get more help in next week’s federal budget, wary of the long-term consequences if not backed.

The sadness described by Mohamed is also what she hears from her peers in her role as president of Simon Fraser’s Student Society. They shared the challenges they face, including navigating the dramatic changes to online learning, paying high tuition fees that have remained stable or increased during the pandemic, worrying about having the funds to keep going. learn and accept insecure part-time work. sectors deemed essential.

WATCH | Students report precarious finances amid the pandemic, says the student leader:

Simon Fraser Student Society president shares financial concerns affecting her peers amid COVID-19, including a sense of uncertainty over their ability to continue with their education. 1:28

“We have done our best to make sure that our services remain open.… We have invested a lot of funds that we had in emergency aid,” Mohamed said of his group. “But at the end of the day, we just don’t have the resources to help students in the same way the university does and in the same way the provincial and federal governments could if they did.” a priority. ”

Across the country, Bailey Howard hears about the same challenges, and more.

“I think post-secondary students have definitely been put on the back burner,” said the Newfoundland and Labrador president of the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS).

She cited students’ difficulties accessing broadband, a lack of mental health and other support services and a significant drop in job prospects.

Youth employment has indeed fluctuated a lot this year. Seasonally adjusted, the unemployment rate for Canadians aged 15 to 24 before the pandemic was 10.4% in January and February 2020, according to Statistics Canada. This figure jumped to 29.1% in May 2020.

Although the youth unemployment rate gradually declined last summer and fall, it rebounded to 19.9% ​​in January with a new wave of lockdowns and closures, StatsCan noted in its labor force survey. March 2021.

The agency highlighted how the employment of young Canadians aged 15 to 24, especially young women, is affected by public health measures adopted to contain COVID-19. He also said the recent tightening of restrictions in provinces such as British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario could affect April’s results.

Youth unemployment rates have historically been higher than the national average, but young Canadians are suffering the most from job losses this year, according to Tim Lang, president and CEO of Youth Employment Services in Toronto.

“Young people are disproportionately affected during COVID-19,” he said. “When organizations need to cut spending, they often look to their new or young employees. “

In search of the budget

In this context of uncertain employment prospects, student leaders are calling for an extension of the moratorium on the repayment of student loans in the next federal budget.

The measure would allow students to focus on finding work and focus on tackling the pandemic now before they have to start paying off their student loans, said Howard of CFS, who is completing a post-graduate degree in journalism at the College of the North. Atlantic.

WATCH | What post-secondary students want to see in the federal budget:

The coronavirus has posed many new challenges for post-secondary students, who are feeling the pressure in different ways from province to province. 0:52

Struggling with student debt and poor employment options is a permanent crisis, says David Macdonald, Ottawa-based senior economist for the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives.

It is essential that young Canadians re-enter the workforce as soon as possible. The impact of not having a job for a year or two after graduating from college or university can go beyond the mere loss of income during that time, he said.

“Once the job market is restored, they are now competing with a new generation of students who have just graduated and who have no gaps in their resumes, so they have a lot more competition for them. jobs, ”he said. ” [It] affects their long-term outlook and long-term income potential. ”

He fears that some new graduates will feel pressured to take any job just to pay off their school debt.

“It puts a lot of pressure on people,” he said.

WATCH | Measures that could help post-secondary students, schools:

David Macdonald, senior economist at the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, says the federal government should take a moment to think about how it can use the pandemic as a chance to help universities in the long run. 0:45

In the budget, Macdonald wants to see an improved version of last year’s Canada Student Emergency Benefit, which was not very good and “was not very well taken out,” he said. said, because it offered much less than Canada’s more general emergency response service.

Ideally, he also wants to see a longer-term federal investment in post-secondary education so that schools do not increase their tuition fees.

The federal government remains “committed to supporting students and ensuring that young people get the experience and skills they need to be successful,” said Marielle Hossack, press secretary for Carla Qualtrough, Canada’s Minister of Education. Employment, Workforce Development and Inclusion of People with Disabilities.

She highlighted measures the federal government has already taken, such as doubling Canada student grants.

“While I cannot comment on what may or may not be considered for the next federal budget, our government will always be there for students and will continue to do whatever it takes to help them through these extremely difficult economic times,” Hossack said. .

Although Simon Fraser’s student Mohamed has already considered pursuing higher education, she now plans to take time to rest and recuperate before embarking on a job search. Her dream of being financially stable enough to live on her own in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland is on hold at this time.

“I think about what the differences are between the long-term dreams we have and those of previous generations,” she said.

“Sometimes a ceiling almost feels like it’s closing in on us in a certain way and we’re not able to dream as big as we want to. “

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